Recently, I made a few comments about climate change and the potential impact on infectious diseases in horses on our sister site, equIDblog. A recent news article in New Scientist discussed concerns about climate change and pets. The main infectious disease concern regarding climate change is changes in patterns and spread of insect-borne diseases, because different insect vectors may expand their normal ranges or change their seasonality in response to climate change. Some of the examples cited in the article include:

  • Babesiosis, a blood-borne disease spread by the European dog tick, is being found in areas of Europe where it was previously rare.
  • Increasing populations and ranges of ticks have been reported in many countries, which is a significant concern based on the number of different diseases these ticks can carry and transmit.
  • Leishmaniasis has been identified in dogs in the southern UK.  If climate change allows sandflies (the insect vector of this disease) to become established in the UK, then spread of this disease could become a major problem.
  • Milder winters may result in longer periods of activity of some insects that transmit disease, thereby extending the times of the year when there is a risk of disease. In some areas, year-round risk could develop for diseases that were previously seasonal.

Climate change is a complex and still rather controversial topic. Predicting the infectious diseases implications of climate change is difficult.  Information that is already available for some diseases, combined with general knowledge about microorganisms and their hosts, can help us make some educated guesses about what may happen. While the full scope of the impact cannot be predicted, it is almost certan that climate change will result in infectious disease challenges in both veterinary and human medicine.